Some Thoughts on Movement Screening

Whether you use the Movement Dynamics PCA (Physical Competence Assessment) or any other movement screening the key issue is never the score that arises from it. Whatever the score is it is no predictor of anything. It simply gives you one answer to the question ‘where are they now?’

Take, for example, the Single Leg Box Squat in the PCA (or any of the other primary movement assessments). It starts with looking at movement efficiency e.g. can they get into the correct posture; can they do the movement in a controlled manner to the correct amplitude?

Following this (if they are successful) you can look at their movement ‘consistency’ by seeing them repeat the movement. Here you count only those movements that are pristine from start to finish across the repetition range you have set. By asking them to repeat the movement you have actually started to see it under a ‘load’.

This is the cornerstone of movement assessments (formal and informal) – the ability to repeat the movement under a variety of circumstances. The PCA, for example, allows the coach and the athlete to experience some or all of the foundation movements of Squat, Lunge, Pull, Push, Brace, Rotate, Hinge and Bend, in a VERY controlled environment. Never forget that the world the athlete lives in is pretty much an uncontrolled, reactive environment (opposition, implement, ball, playing area, surface, etc) and this should be reflected in their training continuum.

Getting a good or poor score in a movement assessment is just the start. By observing where the athlete’s movement strengths and weaknesses are it is likely that the smart coach will weave together a progressive exercise prescription that accounts for them in varying ratios. Scoring well (a 5) on the Single Leg Box Squat test does not arm the athlete with a ‘get out of jail’ card for future exposure to movements that involve single leg efficiency. What about this movement at differing speeds, directions, planes, amplitudes, external loads? What happens to the assessment score when these circumstances raise their head?

It would be a waste of time to test each movement at different planes, speeds, directions, amplitudes, loads and complexities – who has the time for this? This where the old adage of ‘testing is training and training is testing’ comes in. By all means do the efficiency and consistency assessment to find out ‘where they are now’ with regard to their basic movement vocabulary – BUT – also continue the ongoing assessment during the exercise prescription as all the other parameters come in to play. That score of 5 you gave them for the controlled Single Leg Box Squat will look very different when it is done reactively, fast and under fatigue. This is when your coaching comes under scrutiny – having the ability to eradicate movement limitations at all speeds, amplitudes, directions, planes, loads and complexities.

It must also be mentioned that if an athlete scores poorly on a movement it is not to say that the particular movement is now ‘out of bounds’ in terms of exercise prescription. I often see athletes who can Double Leg Squat well to just above the position where the thigh and shin are at 90 degrees. Any lower and they generally lose the marks associated with ‘depth – (looking for thighs parallel to the floor) and ‘Trunk angle – (looking for shins and back to be parallel to each other). The key decision is to let them explore the Squat movement (that they probably scored a PCA ‘3’mark) at the range that they are good at. In this example there is nothing at all wrong with the athlete with a score of 3 doing repetitions of the Squat movement to the depth at which the two limitations do not appear. The key is to give them a journey where (a) they can Squat (b) they can eradicate the limitations seen in ‘depth’ and Trunk-angle’. To eradicate the limitations demands an understanding of why the problem exists (this is coaching). I always try to choose another exercise to find the solution while, at the same time, implicitly and explicitly coach the specific problem out of them. In the example used (Squat) I get good results from applying deep Lunges and high Step-Ups to their program as a means of giving them some physical tools to overcome the ‘depth’ and Trunk-angle’ problem.

A typical session might include:

[Example of a 6 sets x 6 reps prescription]

Set 1 – Squat to 110 degrees (the depth at which they show none of the limitations that lost them marks in the assessment).
Set 2 – High Lateral Steps Ups – 3 each leg)
Set 3 – Squat to 110 degrees
Set 4 – 360 Lunge & Reach matrix
Set 5 – Squat to 110 degrees
Set 6 – High Lateral Step Ups – 3 each leg)

This example illustrates that 50% of the workout is spent at the level of Squat they can do well and 50% on movements that (hopefully) will assist in increasing hip-mobility that (hopefully) will help with ‘depth’ and ‘Trunk- angle’ issues. As time unfolds then the exercises can shift back to Squats by peeling off some of the ‘support’ exercises e.g.

Set 1 – Squat
Set 2 – Squat
Set 3 – Step Up
Set 4 – Squat
Set 5 – Squat
Set 6 – Lunge

The assessments are there to assist the coach make the appropriate interventions in exercise prescription – the real advantage of screening.